It’s tough sometimes in pop. Victoria Hesketh, aka Little Boots, knows how fickle this game can be as well as anyone. In 2009, she was flying; top of the BBC Sound Of… poll, ‘one to watch’. A critically acclaimed Top 5 debut album – Hands – and a Top 10 single – On Repeat – were soon added to the haul.
Fast forward four years and things didn’t quite go according to plan. US tour cancelled, label changed and no dizzying spell of success in between. It stands to reason then that Hesketh has a point to prove to those who doubted her.
The good news is that Nocturnes isn’t so much a ‘told you so’ record, as an all out ‘rub your face in it, remind you every time we speak’ one. Hesketh has gone from a promising, if not quite fully developed, electro-pop upstart to sounding like a bona fide pop star, and with producers to match. DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy produces the bulk of the album, with Hercules And Love Affair‘s Andy Butler co-writing and producing two songs – Every Night I Say A Prayer and All For You – and Simian Mobile Disco‘s James Ford helming one.
Nocturnes is a more grown up and smarter record that her previous work, no doubt influenced by both her growing maturity and experience. If Hands was a record about love and heartbreak, and almost embarrassingly introspective at times, this is the sound of opportunity, of late nights and getting wiser as you grow up a bit.
Hesketh has been compared to Madonna (wide of the mark) and Kylie Minogue (closer), and Nocturnes’ disco-influenced catchy electro-pop develops the theme. This album is less ’80s influenced than its predecessor, but the single Broken Record is straight from the Kylie school of pop hits – bouncing club bass line, hypnotic vocal and ’80s synthesizer. Every Night I Say A Prayer, too – it’s a slice of camp pop, with a slightly dark disco backing track and major key piano riff. And it’s catchy as hell. There are several moments – Beat Beat and Every Night I Say A Prayer, for instance – where she even sounds like Kylie singing.
So far, much fun to be had. But if Nocturnes is an album about the evening and a more grown up Little Boots, it gets really good when things get a bit deeper and darker into the night. Motorway, with its carefree, if somewhat impractical chorus – “Meet me on the motorway/together we can make our great escape” – bristles with opportunity and unspent energy, the soundtrack to driving through the twilight hours on the way to somewhere good.
Shake – Ford’s sole production here – sounds like, rather than taking a sojourn in the studio for a few years, Hesketh has been clubbing rather a lot. It has a monster bouncing bass line straight out of Chicago house and seems to literally be about making you move.
The double header of Crescendo and Strangers are where Hesketh and Nocturnes peak though. The former is a near perfect pop song; the verse will stick in your head, the chorus is gloriously uplifting and carefree, and it feels like that part of the night where everything just clicks into place. Strangers is equally good, a proper vocal club track about dancing like no one is watching despite being with people you love or loved. It builds over nearly seven minutes; Hesketh is no longer heartbroken but accepting: “I know you so well that we dance like strangers tonight.” It typifies how far she has come since her early hype and sounds like an artist who is now making music exactly how she wants to.
Nocturnes is a very good pop record. It’s fun, but accomplished too, and shows how Hesketh has taken her knocks, used them and come back bolder, brighter and better. On this evidence, she will have earned the spoils heading her way. And it sounds like she’s had a great time along the way.